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Standing on Top of a Skyscraper: My Battle With Panic Attacks

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

I froze as he pressed the barrel of his gun to my head and said, “I’m going to kill you!”  Then just as suddenly he turned and ran out the door of my office, down the hall and out to the street.  He knew I had pressed the panic button so he fled.  The officer showed up and asked me several questions while I sat trembling like a leaf.   Police cars drove up and down the streets looking for the man with a gun.  I drove home from work thinking, “Wow, I could have died today.” 

Just out of a verbally abusive relationship and over-committed in several areas of my life, I lacked the emotional reserves to fall back on.   The nightmares started immediately with vivid scenarios of me being chased by men with guns and an inability to escape or contact someone for help.  I would wake up feeling terrified.    The panic attacks were delayed.  A few weeks later I started having severe panic attacks.  I couldn’t function at work.  When a panic attack hit, I couldn’t think, I felt like I could get up and run a marathon at full speed at that very moment.  My body would surge with adrenaline.  

Even more distressing to me was that I couldn’t push through it.  I had put myself through a lot of stress in the past and I was always able to rebound.  This time I was incapable of pressing through.  I felt like a blow up bop bag that kept getting knocked over.  My counselor agreed with me that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Since I was having trouble functioning at work my therapist wrote a letter to my work requesting a medical leave of absence for one month. 

My work only gave me two weeks, which felt like two days.  I wasn’t ready to go back.  I will admit that It wasn’t easy to get back to work.  My clients who relied on me heavily noticed I wasn’t myself.  Many said they were sorry about what happened. 

I described feeling like I was on top of a skyscraper in heavy wind to my therapist who helped me visualize being held up by a strong bungee cord.    The visualization helped me.  I still often felt ready to run a marathon as my body kept releasing adrenaline in surges.  I wondered when it would all calm down.  

I used cognitive therapy methods to help me cope, stopped taking Claritin D realizing the decongestant made me anxious, I used deep breathing methods and visualizations.  Prayer from friends and trust in God helped tremendously.  It was a tough time that challenged me immensely. 

The reassuring part was realizing how God had protected me that day.   Normally, on Saturdays at the clinic there were only two people there.  This was the only Saturday I remember working there, over three years, that there was a third person at the office.   The painter threw off the assailant and gave me enough time to press the panic button.   The police officer said he just happened to be driving near our building and he got there quickly.   Had the painter not been talking in the hallway, causing the man to look out my office door, the scenario may have turned out very differently.    Knowing God had protected me also helped me to recover. 

Recovery is an ongoing process.  12 years later, I still am more sensitive to things than I used to be.  Scary shows, a loud noise, a recent encounter with an angry driver, all send adrenaline flowing through my body.  I very rarely have nightmares now and have learned how to take care of myself when PTST has been triggered.  Self-care is essential when recovering from trauma.  

I plan to follow up this blog with a list of methods to help you cope with PTSD or other types of anxiety.  Stay tuned, and thank you for listening to my story!

 Blessings, Gretchen

by Gretchen Flores